A Covington family was awarded Thursday after providing the Covington Fire Department with information that led them to solving an arson case.
Arson consultant Bud Ausborn with Georgia Arson Control along with the State Fire Marshal and Covington Fire Department presented Buddy Gilbert with a check for $3,500, after he and his son Cody reported a fire near their home and gave the CFD information about what they saw on Jan. 22, 2011.
According to a news release from assistant fire marshal Captain Tony Smith, Gilbert's son came home that night after hanging out with his friends when he noticed a fire in the woods, which was a street over from his house.
"He woke his father up and stated what he saw," Smith said. "The two went to investigate. They figured out the fire was actually a vehicle. The two called 911 and waited for the fire department to respond. While waiting, they observed another vehicle driving down the street.
"They followed and stopped the vehicle, thinking it was possibly the owner of the burning vehicle or a member of the fire department. After the person in the vehicle said that he had no knowledge of the vehicle on fire, he drove up the road approximately 200 feet. The Gilberts saw an unknown person run from the woods and get into the vehicle."
Smith said before the vehicle could leave, Gilbert was able to obtain the license plate number from the vehicle and he provided authorities with that information and later identified the perpetrator through a photo lineup.
"The information given by Buddy Gilbert was imperative to solving this case for the Covington Fire Department," Smith said. "To have the tag number, vehicle description and a physical description of possible suspects, made this case very solvable."
Andre Lamont Wayne was arrested on March 1, 2011 in connection to the arson. Smith said Wayne plead guilty to the crime on Oct. 16.
On Thursday, Gilbert said he and his son were not expecting anything for giving the information and that they just did what they thought they needed to do.
"You see a car burning and obviously we thought that it was somebody inside the car. But we got down there and we realized that it was somebody who had set a fire. So we called 911 and the rest was history," Gilbert said. "I'll do it again if I was faced with the same. I hope I'm not though," he said with a smile.
Gilbert said his son Cody is attending Georgia Southern University and that he wanted to use the money to help pay his son's last year of college.
"It feels good not to worry about how I'm going to scrape up the money. When you retire and you are on Social Security, it feels real good," he said.
The Georgia Arson Control program was formed in 1979 by property and casualty insurers writing business in Georgia. GAC, with the cooperation of the commissioner, Georgia Department of Insurance and Safety Fire, and state/local law enforcement agencies, established an Arson Hotline.
Ausborn said about $1.6 million has been given out through the state of Georgia and about 800 people have received rewards through the program.
He said GAC's board of directors receives reward nominations from fire chiefs, police chiefs, prosecuting attorneys, arson investigators or fire marshals, after they work cases such as this. Ausborn said the board then determines if a reward should be given and the amount, which could be up to $10,000.
"It's a good organization," he said. "If they have a fire and they put one or two of these posters up and people see it and they look at how much money that they can get, then they'll come and help. If the public doesn't get involved, then sometimes some of these cases just go back on the shelf."
To report a case of arson, call the Georgia Arson Control Hotline at (800) 282-5804. For more information on GAC, visit georgiaarsoncontrol.com.